ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Golden Pints: BV's best beers of 2017

Well done you - you made it through another year!

And so, it seems did I, staggering on, from one pint to the next like some sort of thirsty animal. But with better taste in beer, presumably.

As beer-years go, 2017 was a pretty good one (there's scope for a Tori Amos cover there) and the standard of brewing in this country remains at an all time high.

Now, I'm mostly about drinking proper pints of cask beer in the pub, obviously, and in 2017 I added 669 new beers to my list, bringing my total up to 8,461 since I started counting 22 years ago! But you don't care about my numbers, do you?

Tzatziki Sour and Scampi Fries - a meal in itself
More importantly, this was bloody good beer. 27 of these got the 'effective maximum' rating of 8/9, including three in a row at one point, and it's going to be a struggle to pick out the best of these. So before we attempt to do that, let's dish out some other awards like sweeties, shall we?

The rest of the Bests

Best keg beer: There are lots of fascinating beers getting (sometimes exclusively) keg releases these days. Huge Imperial Stouts, High-ABV DIPAs. Shitloads of good stuff, even before you get onto the US and Belgian imports.

But by magnitudes of many miles, the keg beer I drank most of in 2017 (and I reckon I drank about two thirds of the entire keg!) was Mad Hatter 'Tzatziki Sour' as a very modest 4.3%.

I don't even particularly like cucumber, considering it a rather pointless and inflexible salad vegetable at best. But in a sour, quenching, sessionable beer it turns out to be absolutely fantastic. Forgot your Cobra and Kingfisher - this is what Indian restaurants should be serving to wash down your chicken tikka and onion bhajees.

Obviously it would be great with any sort of gyros/souvlaki type meal too - though if the food had actual Tzatziki on it as well, it might be a yoghurty overload.

Another brilliant keg beer of the Summer - and another sessionable sour - was Fierce Beer's 'Very Berry' - properly refreshing with loads of raspberries. British breweries have struggled to make convincing and high-quality fruit (and indeed veg) beers in the past, but they've got it bang on now!

Best bottled/canned beers: I don't drink a huge amount of these, simply because I'm usually drinking draught beers in a pub. Lindeman's Kriek is always a delight, and I enjoy the Kernel's bottled IPA series, with Citra Ella Galaxy particularly good this year.

This might possibly have been Imperial Cafe Racer!
But I'm going to give this one to Fierce Beer for their delicious Imperial Cafe Racer, a collab brew with Devil's Peak from Cape Town. An 8.5% Imperial Porter with Coffee and Vanilla - it's the sort of beer I'd love to see on cask and given a few months to mellow out. (Yes, if you're reading, Fierce Beer, brew this again in 2018 and put some of it into casks! Dry-podded and dry-beaned, perhaps?)

Best beer drank overseas: Well, I've only been away a couple of times this year, on both occasions to bits of the former USSR not known for their beer - so without much competition to speak of, this award goes to Lumencraft 'Hoppy Lager' at Chisinau airport! The best beer I found in Moldova by some distance, it does exactly what it says on the label and reminded me of Brewdog's 77 Lager. A shame the beer appears not to be widely available, even in Chisinau.
Best cider: This is really difficult, not in picking the cider which wins, but knowing whether or not it is actually that cider.

I'll explain: Glebe Farm 'Side-r Raspberry' at the Epping-Ongar Railway beer festival was the greatest fruit cider I've ever tried. Absolutely delicious, like a vintage tawny port with super-complex tart-sweet flavours, as if it had been aged for years and developed into something incredibly special.

Only the festival organisers thought that there may have been a mix-up with the labelling, so it might actually have been a completely different cider.  Somebody said it was probably Farmer Jim's 'Rhubarb Bob'. We just don't know. Arrggh.

The main event

So, this is what really matters. My favourite new cask beers of 2017.

Hopcraft provided the beer for my 40th birthday party, with a tap takeover at the Craft Beer Co. Clerkenwell, a multi-time BV London Pub of the Year. There were many splendid beers on cask and keg that day, and I managed to get well into double figures.

My pick of the bunch was 'Lucifer Juice' (4.6%), the sort of hoppy, fruity, super-drinkable APA that Gazza does really well - though the weaker 'Golden Pixie' was also worth of a score of 8. I wish Hopcraft beers were easier to find on a regular basis - though I'd be quite happy if 20 of them all turned up at once next time I have a birthday.

Birthday Hopcraft beers at the Craft!
Talking of Pubs of the Year, the Hope in Carshalton won the 2016-17 award - I've had some very fine beers in there, of which the finest was Oakham 'MK Ultra' (3.7%) which packed some serious (Eureka) hop flavour into a lightweight package. I loved it. Or at least, was brainwashed into thinking I loved it...

Oakham have been around for quite a while now, but remain one of the experts when it comes to hoppy session beers. I can't think of many breweries from their vintage that have kept up with the radical, feisty young newcomers over the past few years.

I drank more beer in my local, the Radius Arms, than anywhere else, and - with no disrespect to the wonderful Hope - if it had been in Greater London, it would probably have beaten it to the title.

Two of my favourite beers of the year were enjoyed in here, unsurprsingly. Like Oakham, Dark Star continue to impress in the face of competition, and their range of seasonal specials this year was particularly sterling. An honourable mention for the Pineapple and Coconut 'Not into Yoga', which came out around the same time as 'Tropical KO', a big, punchy IPA at 6.2% that delivered a payload of lush, fruity hops as good as anything you'd find on t'other side of the Atlantic.

Then, just last month, there was Tiny Rebel 'Chocolate Stay Puft', a chocolatey re-imagining of their 5.2% marshmallow porter. The beer is sublime in its original form but possibly even better with the addition of chocolate. Crucially the boys in South Wales pulled off some alchemy with the recipe ensuring that it's not sickly-sweet either. A stunning beer, and the Radius a rather good place in which to drink it.

One beer I missed at the Radius, and consequently spent some time tracking down in the final weeks of the year was another Dark Star seasonal, this time 'Cocoa Nut' (6.0%). After a couple of near-misses, I finally got to try it at the Star and Garter in Bromley, just three days ago.

Nothing to do with coconuts this time, but plenty of Cocoa and plenty of nuttiness. Like a Green Triangle in a pint glass, which makes it very Christmassy. Again, a maximal chocolate hit, but without being so sweet you can only drink a half. Brilliant work.

I had a few things to say about the GBBF, not all of them positive, but it was nonetheless a source of great beer, including one real stunner - albeit on the USA cask bar. Aeronaut 'Passion Fruit Sour Planet' was a fruity sour, at just 3.2% absolutely bursting with spritzy, fruity, juicy loveliness. Like many of the American beers, it ran out pretty sharpish, and I consider myself lucky to have had a part of what might well have been the only cask in history of this magnificent Berlinerweisse from Massachusetts.

As I say, it was a good year for beer. Particularly cask beer, which is as it should be, as far as I'm concerned. There was one pint, however, that almost warranted the mythical 9/9 score - Wild Weather 'Pirate Captain', at the Wellington in Birmingham, a couple of weeks before Christmas.

I'm not usually a big fan of Jester hops, finding them just a bit too close to Mosaic for my liking. But then, I've had Mosaic beers (even single-hopped ones) that I've enjoyed so it follows that somebody could brew a Jester-hopped beer (indeed a Jester-hopped 6.5% IPA) that would rock my world.

And rock my world it totally fucking did! This was an evening when it was snowing heavily outside. I'd been drinking mostly dark and winter ales and watching an FA Youth Cup game in the freezing cold at V*lla P*rk. (Ironically the weather was actually wild!) But, from somewhere, this turned up in my drinking schedule, wearing its gloriously hoppy heart on its sleeve.

Sandwiched between two other 8-rated beers (Truman's 'Fine and Dandy', and Neepsend 'Kaldi'), both dark beers brewed with chocolate, it provided an unexpected but deeply satisfying filling.

And that was the best beer of 2017. Indeed, one of the best ever. 2018 has a lot to live up to!

1 comment:

  1. Some great suggestions there! Love your descriptions!


Comments are always welcomed and encouraged, especially interesting, thought-provoking contributions and outrageous suggestions.